GLORIOUS sunshine and massive crowds created a carnival atmosphere at Sligo's two day festival meeting last week but a local winner, which would have rounded off a thrilling two days of racing, eluded punters.
It looked as if local glory was on the cards when the Mark McNiff trained Whisky Galore ran a terrific race in the Leo McMorrow Memorial Handicap over two miles, only to be pipped in the shadow of the post by favourite, Urhavinalaugh.
Sitting in last place at the horses headed out on the final circuit, Whisky Galore, given a peach of a ride by JC Barry, made gradual progress the field and stormed up the straight to get her nose in front in the last fifty yards. However, with the huge crowd ready to acclaim a local victory, the 5/4 favourite came from nowhere to snatch the spoils on the line.
'It was so near and yet so far', reflected local owner, Terry McGowan. 'The ground and the distance was right and the jockey gave the horse a great ride. We thought we had got there and it would have been a great thrill to have a winner at our local track. However, it just wasn't to be'
County Cork trainer, Michael Winters, made the long trip West worthwhile when he sent out Silver Chief (7/2) to win the Follow Sligo on Facebook Maiden Hurdle and he almost completed a double when Kildunne (6/1) finished a gallant second to Kostar (9/2) in the Martinstown Opportunity Maiden Hurdle.
Top Madam (9/4) was a winning favourite in the Martin Reilly BMW Dealer Novice Hurdle while the feature event, the Guinness Sligo Handicap Hurdle was won by King Ali (11/2) who just got the better of Cavite Beta in the best finish of the night.
Favourite backers were collecting again in the last two races. Tepalo (9/10), ridden by Barry Geraghty and trained by AJ Martin, won the Strandhill Lodge and Suites Maiden Hurdle in good style whie the concluding Student Day October 3rd INH flat race was won by the Willie Mullins' trained Who's Cross (6/4).
The winner was given a perfect ride by the trainer's son, Patrick.
The opening day of the festival got off to a cracking start for up and coming young jokcey, Conor Hoban, who struck for a quick fire double in the opening two races.
He rode a perfectly timed race on Harley's Harley (9/2) in the opener, the Irish Stallion Farms EBF Auction 2yo Maiden, bringing the Arthure Moore trained winner through in the last furlong to get home by a length and a quarter from From a jacktoaking (5/1). The 6/4 favourite, Strapless, trained by Jim Bolger, faded in the last 150 yards and could only finish 6th. Hoban completed the double in the Ladies Day at Sligo 9th August Nursery Handicap, steering the Michael Mulvany trained, Chips Are Down (evens favourite), to the front two furlongs out and then staying on well to win by three quarters of a length from Randall's Alannah (12/1), trained by Seamus Fahey.
'He's a good honest little horse and hopefully there is improvement in him because he is still a big baby', reported winning trainer, Mulvany.
Trainer Pat Martin has a good record at Sligo and sent out Footprint to win the Foley's Bar & Off Licence Handicap over six furlongs.
The horse won over course and distance in 2009 and came into the race on the back of recent good form with recent wins at Dundalk and Leopardstown. He was well supported in the ring, backed down to 7/2, and repaid his followers with a thriling victory. The winner was ridden by Andrew Thornton.
The feature race on the evening, the Irish Stallion Farms EBF Connacht Oaks Fillies Handicap, went to the Jim Bolger trained, Livia Gallilei (4/1) who hit the front two furlongs out and held on under a competent ride from Rory Cleary. Tantalising (7/1), trained by Patrick Prendergast, was second while the Willie Mullins trained, Dare to Doubt (7/2) was third. Double Double (3/1) switched from the jumps code to the flat to take the Sligo Apprentice Maiden under Emmet McNamara. The winner was trained by Charles O'Brien. The Sligo Park Hotel 3yo handicap was won in emphatic style by the Tommy Carmody trained, Seventh Sign (10/1). Formerly trained in England by William Haggas, he coasted home by eleven lengths under Niall McCullagh.
The concluding 21st August at Sligo Handicap was dominated by trainer, Harry Rogers, who saddled the first two home. Sam James partnered Cheval Rouge (7/1) to a half a length victory over stablemate, Irish Reel (8/1) which was ridden by Chris Hayes. The Dermot Weld trained even money favourite, Diplomat, could only finish third.